Just published, a study of the botanical and ecological resources of Troy, New York's scenic and historic Oakwood Cemetery!

Oakwood cemetery, founded in 1850, contains some disjunct populations of more western or southern species that are generally not found in this part of the state, or plants found at the eastern or northern limits of their natural range.  Twelve state-listed rare, threatened or endangered native plants have been found at Oakwood.  In addition, in the century and a half since ornamentals were first planted in the landscaped rural cemetery, a number of unusual garden escapes have become naturalized in both lawns and wild areas.  In the 331.5 acres that comprise Oakwood Cemetery, one specimen of every different vascular plant taxon encountered was collected as part of this project.  These 628 specimens were pressed by collectors and some were mounted at the New York State Museum, where the specimens were accessioned into the Museum's Herbarium.  Information on each specimen has been maintained in database format.  Locations of collections were noted and mapped using a Geographic Information System (GIS). In addition, seven plant distribution maps were compiled, and 33 ecological communities were identified and mapped utilizing the GIS.  Detailed plot and individual plant maps were created to document the extremely state-rare grass, Panicum leibergii (Leiberg's panic grass) and Heuchera villosa (maple-leaf alum root.)

Oakwood Cemetery is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Oakwood developed from the first wave of interest in a new kind of cemetery that arose after Bostonians had established Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1831.  Up to that time, Americans had buried their dead in modest, nearby town or church graveyards.  With increasing urbanization and burgeoning populations, these burial grounds proved inadequate and unhygienic.  Furthermore, Romantic ideas of nature were influencing the thinkings and feelings of Americans.  As a result, they believed that nature conveyed God's gifts and messages and could sooth mourners, inspire the disheartened, and teach proper conduct to the youth. The new "rural" cemetery concept was inevitable, for such a cemetery would have plantings to cheer the eye, trees to attract the soothing songs of birds, and hills, valleys, ponds, or streams to provide picturesque views.  This new kind of burial ground provided for the emotional and spiritual needs of the living as well as respectful burial of the dead.  Although a century and a half have passed, Americans maintain the same expectations for a proper burial place: they still want a lovely landscape and carefully groomed grounds. 

Oakwood Cemetery probably commands the most spectacular scenic location of any rural cemetery in the United States.  It is situated on the western escarpment of hills overlooking the Hudson River valley.  From the exposed rocky summit one can observe the confluence of the Hudson and Mohawk Rivers, as well as the famous landmark, Cohoes Falls, in the distance.  Two streams have cut scenic gorges through the shale rock of the escarpment and contain three waterfalls, including two sizeable ones in the ravine known as "Devil's Kitchen."  These landscape elements exemplify the "wild" and "Romantic" rural scenery so popular in the mid-nineteenth century in the eastern United States.  Very little alteration of the landscape was necessary to create the desired effect of a Romantic setting for a rural cemetery.  Buel also remarked that Oakwood Cemetery was, by intent, "remarkably diversified in its formation," embracing "deeply shaded glens . . . gurgling brooks . . . steep declivities . . . woods of oak and chestnut . . . and at intervals along its borders precipitous rocks."  Clearly these natural features were intended to be both visited and admired. 

Relatively little alteration of the landscape was necessary to create the desired effect of a Romantic setting for a rural cemetery.  The cemetery proper (the developed sections) made use of a largely-intact old growth Appalachian oak/hickory forest when the initial land was acquired in the Village of Lansingburgh in 1849.  This type of land use impacted the existing ecological communities of the area far less than would have the traditional residential or commercial development of the era.  Thus an area of considerable botanical and ecological significance has been preserved.  The cemetery was designed by prominent civil engineer/landscape architect J.C. Sidney of Philadelphia and the cemetery was laid out more or less following Sidney's original plan. 



Botanical and Ecological Resources of Oakwood Cemetery, written and compiled by historian and naturalist, Warren F. Broderick, is a work of 150 pages, containing a natural history of the historic Cemetery, along with information on rare native and uncommon exotic plants, plant distribution studies, complete modern and historical plant lists, and is illustrated with fill color photographs and computer-generated maps.  This study should serve as a prototype for botanical and ecological studies to come for significant natural areas.  It is published in a quality comb-bound limited edition of 100 numbered copies.  The cost is only $20 ($15 to dealers, libraries and other institutions,) plus postage and sales tax where applicable.  See Terms of Business on our web site for ordering information.

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